HOW Many Books?

August 18, 2022

In The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller talks about how she expects her 6th grade students to read 40 books during the school year and about how students are often dismayed when they first hear this! I know some of our students in 5th-7th grades are feeling the same thing this week. But in the same way that Miller assured her students that this would be an easier goal to accomplish than they imagined, we can do the same. 

This is going to be easier than you imagine!

Now, the thing is that creating proficient readers just does require them to read - to read every day and to read a variety of books. This does require some amount of discipline and accountability on our part and theirs.

Here's what the 40-book requirement does NOT include:

A book report or project on every book. (Whew!)

Study guides or worksheets on every book. (Most of the time they might have spent on this in the past is going to be spent reading).

The same 40 books for everyone.

Here's what it does include:

Student choice for each student.

 Perhaps this seems obvious, but visualizing this can help alleviate some anxiety. What we mean by this is that a stack of 40 books in all the genre requirements can look like this for one student:   

Note that most of these are slim volumes and/or books with high-interest titles! Also note the presence of Dog Man. This might give us pause, when our instinct might be to say, "Choose a REAL book," but this is the beauty of student choice. Also there aren't 40 Dog Man titles, so good news: eventually they are going to have to find something else!

For another student, 40 books might look like this:

Note that in this stack there aren't actually 40 books! Books that have more than 250 pages count as two books (and in the case of something like Little Women, we could make a case for more than that!). If your student is engrossed in a thick book that takes them longer than a week to read, it's going to be okay! 

Setting students up for success.

For students who don't yet think of themselves as readers, start with something attainable for them, something they can easily manage in a week or less. Here are some examples in each genre:

Many of these are less than 100 pages or are in graphic novel format (did you know that there are good graphic novels in just about every genre!). 

Partnership and collaboration.

Here's what the teachers and librarian will be doing:

Exposing students to wide variety of books.

Sharing our love for books and encouraging students to share books they love!

Teaching students how to select books that are right for them.

Teaching students how to think about and assess what they are reading.

Talking with students and observing them to determine the best ways to help them in their reading journey.

Here's what students will be doing:


Keeping a journal of what they are reading as part of how they will be communicating their comprehension with the teacher.

Here's what parents can do:

Have your student read a book (one they enjoy but that is also reasonably within their reading level) for ten minutes. Record the number of pages they read in that time, then calculate what that means for two hours (or so) of reading. That will give you a rough idea of the size of book (within the same general reading level) that they can handle in a week. 

Talk to the librarian! One of my favorite things is matching students with books, and as fun as it is, I also take it very seriously. We can work together to map out a plan for a given time, even if it's just finding the next book. 

Peruse our Book Lists page. I update these lists regularly and try to include as many different genres and subcategories as I can. If you don't see enough for a category or don't see anything you like, email me or use the Reader's Advisory Form for personalized recommendations for your student. 

Become familiar with the CHESS Library online catalog:
  • You can browse our catalog at, and you can find books by grade range (really broadly - please don't take these labels as gospel!) AND genre. Click on "Filter" at the top right corner to view category tags.
  • Set up your child's account so that you can place holds for them to pick up at school. Go to "Patron Login"in the top right hand corner, then click on "Need Password." You will use your student's CHESS email address. 

We're all going to be navigating this venture at the same time, so there's a certain amount of grace that I hope we can give each other. We have to hold students accountable, but we also want them to succeed, so in this area, we're going to highly value communication among parents, students, teachers, and even the librarian if I can help! PLEASE talk to Mrs. Clifton or myself (Mrs. Meester) about any concerns you still have, because a conversation will likely help make this more clear or seem more manageable.

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